History of Cities Centre

University of Toronto's Cities Centre became official on November 15, 2007 with approvals from the Council of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (DFALD), as well as from Arts and Science, Applied Science and Engineering, and the School of Graduate Studies.

The Centre reported through the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design to a Committee of Deans from the participating faculties.

Administration of the preexisting Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS), established in 1964 as a research unit of the School of Graduate Studies, was transferred from SGS to Cities Centre as of November 20, 2007.

View the PDF A Brief History of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies: The First Twenty-Five Years, 1960 to 1985.

View the PDF CUCS Constitution (1966)

The Centre’s roots go back to the early “brown bag” lunches of its founding members. Beginning in 1961, S.D. Clark (of Political Economy and, after 1962, Sociology), Oswald Hall (Sociology), Donald Kerr and Jacob Spelt (Geography), James Milner (Law), and Albert Rose (Social Work), met every few months in the McMaster building (now the Royal Conservatory) to discuss their research interests and read papers to each other. Their concerns focused mainly on Metro Toronto and the urban-related activities of the federal and provincial governments.

They decided to create a research centre focused on urban affairs and established a committee to promote the idea. In a meeting with President Claude T. Bissell on November 20, 1963, the committee successfully pleaded its case. The School of Graduate Studies established the Centre on May 1, 1964.


The 1960s

The centre was managed by an Executive Council of six faculty members, with a chairman appointed by the president. The president also appointed a director responsible for the centre’s day-to-day work. A Faculty Council and an Advisory Council made up of persons from outside the university met at least once a year to determine general policy and advise the Executive Council.

The inaugural seminar of the Centre of Urban Studies, on urban renewal, took place in Simcoe Hall on October 29 and 30, 1964. The new Centre also initiated several research projects, including the Timmins Project (Clark), the Georgian Bay Project (Milner), the Land Use Atlas (Kerr) and the CMHC-funded Alexandra Park Project (Rose).

In 1966 Stefan Dupre became director. In those days, the Centre was a one-person operation in the back room of a rented house on Spadina Avenue (since torn down). The director had a secretary, some funding, and little else. Nevertheless, the name of the Centre was enlarged to encompass “community studies” to reflect research on community issues that were not necessarily urban in origin or expression.

The Executive Council and the director planned seminars, discussion groups, visiting lecturers, and monthly luncheons featuring guest speakers. By 1970 the Centre had 20 professors among its resident researchers and maintained regular contact with more than 80 faculty members.

A publication program that is still active started in 1968 with the release of the first Research Paper on urban development in Quebec and Ontario by Larry Bourne and Alan Baker. In 1969 A.J. Scott contributed the first bibliography, on combinatorial programming in planning; and in 1974, Albert Rose published the first Major Report, on citizen participation in urban renewal. The first Centre newsletter was published in 1972, discontinued after a few issues, and reactivated in 1978. In 1984, an international journal, Women & Environments, began its five-year sojourn at the Centre. It is now owned by the non-profit WEED Foundation.


The 1970s

In 1969, the Centre appointed Larry S. Bourne associate director to help with the increased administrative load, and the Centre moved to 150 St. George Street. Richard Soberman (1971-72) succeeded Dupre as director, followed by Bourne (1972-84).

Major research initiatives included:

-An extensive exploration of alternative future trajectories of urban and economic development in Ontario and Quebec, funded primarily by Bell Canada

-A massive five-year study of the effects of housing type on the preferences and behaviour of households in the process of relocation, headed by William Michelson

-The Joint Program in Transportation (JPT), which linked faculty and students from engineering, economics, geography, planning, and law at York University and the University of Toronto (the program still exists as a free-standing unit within the University of Toronto)

-The Housing Markets program, initially funded by the University’s Connaught Fund


The Child in the City Program (1976-83) was set up in response to the needs of the Hospital for Sick Children Foundation for research on the effects of social, neighbourhood and environmental change on urban children. It was the largest and most ambitious program associated with the Centre and the first to combine faculty from the medical, health, and social science communities. In 1982, the Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU) emerged from this innovative project.

In 1977, the global secretariat of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) was established in the Centre under Barry Wellman. INSNA linked more than 300 social network analysts from all continents. The INSNA newsletter Connections was published three times a year through the Centre from 1976 until 1988, when it moved to the University of Florida.

The Centre hosted its first major international conference, on urban housing markets research and policy, in October 1977. Another major conference, “The Metropolis,” was held in November 1983 in honour of the distinguished urban planner, teacher, activist and Centre associate, Hans Blumenfeld.

The Centre’s resource room of research material and policy documents was organized in 1978. The major focus was on housing, but its expanding holdings reflected the Centre’s changing research interests.

In the 1970s, the Centre supported up to 40 students a year as research assistants on major projects. The Centre also offered dissertation fellowships, small grants and assistantships. These unfortunately stopped in the early 1980s as budgets space tightened.


The 1980s

Ambitious expansion plans were put on hold in the 1980s because of the downturn in funding and waning political interest in urban questions. The federal Ministry of State for Urban Affairs closed in 1979, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation retreated from funding large-scale external research projects, and the Bureau of Municipal Research in Toronto closed in 1982.

In 1982 the Centre moved to its present location at the top of the former Tip Top Tailors building at 455 Spadina Avenue. The offices were renovated and the original front doors of the old Victorian house at 150 St. George were mounted in the fourth-floor hallway.


The director appointed in July 1984, Meyer Brownstone, oversaw the next phase in the Centre’s evolution, a period in which existing research projects continued with the addition of several dealing with problems of urbanization in developing countries.